John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways: Part 20 – Enjoying Camp Jordan Park and South Brainerd Levee

Monday, November 30, 2020 - by John Shearer

While many people were enjoying Black Friday by shopping in person or online on the day after Thanksgiving, I decided to have a Green Friday -- I went searching for another park and green space.


After a little pondering, I went to Camp Jordan Park to check it out for the first time up close and was pleased.


Like the Collegedale Greenway I visited last time, much of Camp Jordan is centered around water.

In fact, three streams come together around Camp Jordan Park – South and West Chickamauga creeks, and Spring Creek. This makes it be for creeks what Pittsburgh is for rivers with the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. 


As a result, I almost feel like I have spent as much time around streams in the last couple of weeks as a beaver or a muskrat. But it has been a great experience, with countless nice views of the waterways visible from both the park and the south end of the Brainerd Levee.


I left my home near Northgate Mall about mid-morning and was surprised to find myself driving down the road into Camp Jordan Park within 15 or 20 minutes, even on Black Friday, although a pandemic-affected one.


I have realized my home in Hixson by Highway 153 is actually very centrally located in Hamilton County, making most places other than Sale Creek and maybe the far end of Ooltewah a fairly short drive.


I have been to Camp Jordan to the arena once in the last couple of years and noticed the greenway paths from a distance, but that has been the extent of my examination. Often to me when I think of Camp Jordan Park, I recall years ago when I would write up an announcement for the Chattanooga Free Press about some kind of shrine circus being held there. 


The park has no doubt evolved over the years, and I have never completely understood how it has all fit together with all the new businesses near Ringgold Road – from Bass Pro Shops to Chick-fil-A – now butting up against it. News has also surfaced about fields being built there, perhaps affiliated with one of the local professional soccer teams.


It looks like enough space is available for all while not taking away from the natural look and feel of the greenway along the creeks. But let’s hope we don’t hear in the news about another formal field or two here or there wanting to be added as well.


I tried to find some information online on the history and naming of Camp Jordan Park, and I found an old typed history full of detailed information about East Ridge as a whole. It is a wonderful and thorough chronicle of information and was placed online by East Ridge News Online.


It said in one place that a cavalry unit of the Tennessee National Guard had bought the land in 1930, with members of the group even contributing to the purchase. It was named for friend and officer Paul H. Jordan. The U.S. Army even reportedly provided the horses for them to use.


Of course, the extensive cavalry facilities in Fort Oglethorpe just a short distance away at that time might have been hard for them to use due to the fact it was in Georgia. 


The Camp Jordan land was auctioned off in 1946 as military surplus, but in 1973 the city of East Ridge purchased the former 175-acre Crow farm for $150,000. In 1982 it was officially named Camp Jordan Park in honor of Maj. Gen. Jordan, who in the 1950s commanded the 30th Armored Division.


Determining whether the park land follows the exact location of the old camp site would require further research, but the natural floodplain area probably encompasses much of it. 


When I arrived Friday morning, I decided to park by the Chattanooga FC Academy soccer fields. After a quick couple of laps around the fields and some push-ups and sit-ups to pretend more than 40 years had not passed since I was a teenager, it was time to enjoy simply a leisurely and light jog with my camera.


I headed straight through part of the disc golf course over to where West and South Chickamauga Creeks come together. I first looked to the right and saw a nice open field that has not been set aside with fencing or anything.


On the side of it closest to the creek was a paved path that circles around all the ballfields and follows the creeks for probably close to a mile or at least three-quarters of a mile.


I then went to the nice walkway ramp and span-like crossing over West Chickamauga Creek a few yards before it runs into South Chickamauga Creek. The bridge looked like a smaller, single span of the Walnut Street Bridge and was a nice architectural scene to complement the natural one of the flowing creek and the few late-turning trees below and around it.


I jogged on the path just above South Chickamauga Creek and within about 200-300 yards came upon the giant Interstate 75 overpass over the creek. The construction work they are doing on the freeway was noticeable here, with some materials scattered by the greenway path. 


Continuing under the overpass, I soon came upon the southernmost end of the Brainerd Levee/South Chickamauga Creek Greenway and continued walking in the direction of Brainerd Road.


I quickly realized that, of all the greenways I have visited to date for this series, this area most closely adjoins civilization or development, yet the natural area is still nice and expansive enough to make one feel he or she is actually out in the country. 


Sure, some light industrial areas and Chattanooga State are alongside the Tennessee Riverwalk/Riverpark off Amnicola Highway, but this area seems to take it to another level with natural aesthetics staring man’s need to live modern and civilized in the face.


Who would have thought the backside of a Walmart big box store would be eye pleasing due to the nice greenspace and floodplain along the Brainerd Levee leading down to South Chickamauga Creek. Or that the view of the creek a few yards back would be nice enough to offset the noise of zooming automobiles on the Interstate above.


One aspect about the path on the top of the Brainerd Levee, though, is that it can create almost a monotonous, desert-like feel, with the elevated path going on for hundreds of yards, despite the aesthetically pleasing grass and occasional wetlands to capture one’s eyes. 


So, instead of going on to Brainerd Road after seeing what was on the horizon, I decided to turn right and jog down to the creek and go back in the direction of where I came alongside it. After reaching the water 100 or so yards away, I found to my pleasant surprise some old bridge piers of some sort.


How old they were, I do not know, but they had almost a Stonehenge in a creek look to them due to their mysterious origin in my mind and the fact they were out of sight pretty much from the levee and perhaps the Brown Acres golf course across the creek. The bridge, whatever kind it was, had apparently been long removed, and my imagination ran wild.


I also found a nearby place where enough silt had settled to let me walk out and get a good view of the creek and piers. 


I then continued back in the direction of the Interstate overpass, enjoying the grass but also wishing it had been cut a little lower. Of course, that is better than just letting a bunch of wild bushes and trees overtake the area.


Once past the underpass, I went back across the creek bridge while taking a few pictures of the creek and the turning trees I saw. I was so energized with excitement by this time that I spoke with enthusiasm to a couple of groups of walkers I passed.


Based on their lukewarm reaction, they were evidently not as excited as I was at the nature experience and might have been wondering why I was so enthusiastic.


I had turned right off the creek bridge and ramp and continued going along the Camp Jordan path back in the direction of the Bass Pro Shops and Ringgold Road several hundred yards away. 


After seeing a turnoff for a nature trail, I went down it for a few yards and enjoyed the experience, especially seeing a small red maple in peak color. 


I then got back on the main trail and enjoyed the experience some more and even helped provide a stick to let someone playing disc golf get his disc out of the creek. I thought water hazards only came into play in real golf!


Overall, I enjoyed the trail in this part of the park and realized it actually looks more bucolic and natural while you are on it than it does from an automobile going down Camp Jordan Road a couple hundred yards away.


And I am sure it still does when hundreds of people are making use of the various ballfields, which they were not on Friday.


Let’s hope Camp Jordan Park officials don’t develop this area with even more formal sports field and facility offerings. It seems just right the way it is now, with something for everyone.


After following the trail a little farther south before it began looping back across Camp Jordan Road, I turned around and headed back to my car. On the way, I stopped at one of the portable restroom facilities dotting the park and was thankfully glad they were there – and that they featured dispensers that still had plenty of sanitizer in them!


I then got back in my car, and my phone said the time was now 12:30 p.m., not 12:15 or even noon as I expected. I had been gone for about an hour and 15 minutes, and I was having so much fun on the day nice both in weather and views that the time had flown by.


Needless to say, I was ready for lunch and took note of the Buddy’s barbecue and Chick-fil-A restaurants by Ringgold Road while bypassing them this time to head home to eat a sandwich made of leftover turkey. 


I also gladly noticed a Dairy Queen under construction. Blizzard ice cream treat, anyone!


Actually, I realized I had already received a treat in the form of a nice jog along a protected and pretty part of Hamilton County.


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To see the previous story in this series, read here:


* * * * *

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